Drug users, neighbours weigh in on safe injection site proposal for Ottawa

Neighbours, real estate agents and drug users all sat together Monday night to hear the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre's proposal for a safe drug injection site in Ottawa.

It was the first of four meetings that the centre's director, Rob Boyd, said are aimed at educating people about misconceptions as well as hearing out people's concerns.

Boyd wants to incorporate the feedback and hopefully some community buy-in as part of a detailed plan to present to the centre's board of directors in June, proposing to create a supervised drug injection site at its Nelson Street location.

About 30 people took part in sessions showing how users would access the centre's lower floor, where already about 700 drug users take part in the centre's needle exchange.

Those using the new safe injection site would receive an drug injection kit, which includes items such as a clean needle and alcohol swabs.

The person would then move into an adjacent room to inject her/himself under the supervision of a nurse.

Darren Noftall is already using the needle exchange program, as well as other services from the centre. He said he injects himself on average three times a day.

"Addicts are people too, and we deserve a safe space," said Noftall, who explained that because he injects at home he is at high risk of being alone if he suffers an overdose.

Safe-injection plan will proceed with or without city support, health-centre executive says

Officials at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre intend to pursue their plan to open a safe-injection service in downtown Ottawa even if the proposal is ultimately rejected by city council.

“We are very open to continuing the dialogue locally with city council or the board of health, but if local officials can’t or won’t provide letters of support for us, we just have to accept that and move on,” health centre executive Rob Boyd told reporters Monday.

Boyd made his comments as the centre launched a month-long series of public consultations on its proposal for a safe-injection site. It wants to add an injection service — with room for up to six drug users — to its existing cluster of medical and social services for people at high risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis C.

Consultation on supervised injection site begins next week in Ottawa

Public consultations begin Monday on a controversial proposal by the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to give injection drug users a safe place to feed their addictions.

The first of four planned meetings will take place at the centre’s Nelson Street facility on Monday evening. Local residents will be invited to learn about the proposed safe injection site, ask questions and offer feedback.

The health centre wants to add a small-scale facility — with room for four or five injection drug users — to its existing cluster of services.

“The goal for us is to provide some education to the local community in terms of some of the myths and misunderstandings about a supervised injection service,” said health centre executive Rob Boyd. “And we want to hear what they have to say about our service model.”

The safe injection site, he said, can address the principal health risks faced by drug users — overdoses and infections — while also reducing the number of people injecting in public places and discarding their needles.

The survivor: Dave Pineau, addict and advocate for harm reduction

As Dave Pineau’s injection drug use snowballed in the early 1980s, harm reduction amounted to a matchbox and a bottle of Aqua Velva.

Pineau regularly shared needles with four members of a close-knit group of friends, all of them homeless on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The men were partial to cocaine and speed, a powerful amphetamine that jacks up the central nervous system. They’d mix the drugs with water, draw the solution into a needle, and slam it into their veins.

They knew the practice came with risks: that hepatitis B and other diseases could be passed in a needle tainted with infected blood. But new needles cost $10 each, while used ones were $5.

So the men adopted rudimentary safety measures.

They’d buy new needles when there was money to spare, and sharpen old ones on the side of a matchbox then sterilize them with cheap aftershave. (Sometimes, Pineau would forget to rinse the Aqua Velva from a needle and would “taste” the aftershave with his first hit; research suggests he likely smelled volatile compounds being eliminated through his respiratory system.)

“That was our idea of harm reduction,” he says.

Notice of Community Consultations - Supervised Injection

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is seeking input from community members on a service model for supervised injection at their main location on 221 Nelson Street in Ottawa.

When: Mondays in April, 6:30-8:00 pm
Location: 221 Nelson Street.

The proposed service will complement the wide range of addictions and mental health services offered by the Centre and is intended to reduce the frequency of public injecting, overdose death and behaviours associated with the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

Please contact consultation@sandyhillchc.on.ca to register for a consultation. No media please.

Via the Sandy Hill CHC Facebook page

Sandy Hill Community Health Centre plans injection-site consultations in April

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is planning to consult the public this spring about adding a safe-injection site to its building at Rideau and Nelson streets, says the man who runs the Centre’s drug-treatment programs.

“We’re basically on the same path as Toronto,” Rob Boyd said Monday morning following the news that Toronto’s board of health is going to consider three specific sites — two at community health centres and one run by Toronto’s public-health unit itself.

“We are planning on beginning our own consultations, probably in the month of April,” said Boyd. “(They’ll take place) over about six weeks, to allow as much access as possible.”

Jim Watson has always been against such a site and doesn’t care to discuss it, thank you. “Mayor Watson’s position on supervised injection sites has not changed. Mayor Watson prefers to see a continued focus on investment in treatment programs,” wrote his press secretary Livia Belcea in an email on Monday. “Mayor Watson will be unavailable to comment further in the upcoming days.”

That’s unfortunate but not the end of anything, said Boyd, who runs a needle exchange, a methadone and suboxone clinic, and other services for people with HIV or hepatitis C. Adding a small safe-injection facility to a health centre that already does all these things would improve people’s health and probably nobody outside the clinic would notice, he said. “This is really core stuff with us.”

Ottawa health centre plans injection-site consultations despite opposition from mayor

Mayor Jim Watson is refusing to soften his rock-hard stance against supervised injection sites in Ottawa, despite one group's plans to hold consultations on the controversial model in Sandy Hill next month.

Toronto is the latest city after Montreal to officially explore supervised injection sites, with its chief medical officer of health outlining his recommendations Monday for three possible locations.

The sites let users bring their own drugs to inject themselves under the supervision of health professionals to prevent overdoses and infection from unsterilized equipment. They also include treatment programs for users who wish get help with addiction and take people who are shooting up off the street.

Watson has been vehemently opposed to bringing the model to Ottawa, in spite of its documented success at Vancouver’s InSite, which says on its website there have been no overdose deaths there since it opened in 2013 and there has been a 35 per cent reduction in overdoses in the surrounding area.

“Mayor Watson’s position on supervised injection sites has not changed. Mayor Watson prefers to see a continued focus on investment in treatment programs,” wrote his press secretary Livia Belcea in an email on Monday.

His opposition comes as overdoses in the city continue to rise.

Safe injection sites have potential to save lives, says Jane Philpott

Federal health minister says the more people know about them, the greater their support

Toronto's medical officer of health is calling on Canada's largest city to move one step closer to opening three safe drug-injection sites.

In the report, Dr. David McKeown calls for three sites to be located at The Works Needle Exchange Program, the Queen West Community Health Centre and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told the CBC last week that supervised injection sites are among a number of strategies the government has put forward to cope with drug abuse and overdose deaths.

"From a public health point of view it makes a tremendous amount of sense," she said. "Sites like Insite in Vancouver and others like them have the possibility to save countless lives."

Why Ontario still has zero safe injection sites

Intravenous drug users run the risk of higher rates of HIV and hepatitis infections, as well as the ever-present danger of overdose. A straightforward policy that could save lives and money across Canada, and has already been cleared by Canadian courts: supervised injection facilities. In a 2011 ruling on their legality, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that there is little or no evidence that they will have a negative impact on public safety.

But in 2016, no legal supervised injection sites exist anywhere but British Columbia. People who’ve been advocating for an expansion of safe injection beyond the two legal sites in Canada — Insite and the Dr. Peter Centre, both in Vancouver — say it's urgently needed.

“For me, it means less of my friends are going to die,” says Sean Leblanc, chair of Ottawa’s Drug Users Advocacy League. “We lose 40 people a year in Ottawa to overdose deaths, and a lot of those could be prevented with supervised injection.”

Evidence-based government? Let's open supervised injection sites

Safe injection sites save lives. Five small words, an indisputable truth. But Mayor Jim Watson won’t see one on city streets in Ottawa, nor will police Chief Charles Bordeleau.

Under current federal law, the process to get an exemption under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act — needed to open a place where people are going to shoot up — requires consultation with mayors, local politicians and police. There’s that, and a whole slew of other conditions that make it practically impossible to open a supervised injection site.

It’s time for that to change.

Last week, Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott was in Vancouver for a meeting with provincial health ministers, and she said she was moved by a visit to Insite, the safe injection site in the city’s desperately impoverished downtown eastside. Good. She should be moved. But she should also move quickly to amend legislation, making it easier to open safe injection sites.

Given that some powerful local figures oppose them, it’s going to require proper leadership from the federal government to look out for the most desperate in Canadian cities. It is, it must be said, to Ottawa’s shame that we can’t all get our act together to help drug users.

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